Jewish Extremist Leader in Israel Faces Charges of Incitement, Threats

Bentzi Gopstein is head of extremist group Lehava who gained notoriety for using threat of violence against Arab men they suspected of having relations with Jewish women

Yotam Berger
Jack Khoury
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Jewish extremist Benny Gopstein at a memorial event for assassinated far-right extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7 2017.
Jewish extremist Benny Gopstein at a memorial event for assassinated far-right extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7 2017.Credit: Emil Salman
Yotam Berger
Jack Khoury

Bentzi Gopstein, head of an extremist group best known for its efforts to prevent marriage between Jews and Arabs, was summoned Monday for a hearing by the Israeli prosecution, ahead of a potential trial.

Gopstein is suspected of inciting to racism, violence and terrorism, and of obstructing justice.

In several instances from 2012 to the present, Gopstein made statements in the media that were tantamount to calls for violence, the prosecution alleges. He is also suspected of publishing statements that incited to racism, and words of identification with the terrorist acts of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and gunned down 29 Muslims kneeling in prayer at the Ibrahimi mosque.

Gopstein was arrested on October 21 and questioned about allegedly making threats. Fourteen members of his organization, Lehava, were also arrested or held under house arrest on suspicion of threatening Arabs they thought had had relationships with Jewish women. Following his arrest, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Eitan Cohen ordered Gopstein released, saying the case against him was weak.

The Coalition against Racism in Israel and the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center both welcomed the decision to indict Gopstein, saying in a joint statement that Lehava is a racist organization responsible for “hate crimes and incessant incitement against Arabs.” 

The indictment, coupled with the arrest of Gopstein and other Lehava activists a month ago, constitute important steps in the right direction, they said.

Earlier, in July, the Reform movement, Jewish activist groups and a Palestinian victim of violence petitioned the High Court of Justice to arrest Gopstein. They argued that the organization he heads had become a hate organization spreading racism and violence against Arabs and Christians by means of posters, newsletters, conferences, demonstrations and social media.

His legal representative, Itamar Ben-Gvir, told Haaretz that his client would be acquitted because he hadn’t done anything illegal.